Tougher policies on sentencing of minor criminals and dealing with parole violators are filling county and state lockups to overflowing. Now the politicians are complaining. But will they, and their constituents pay to do anything about it?
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette found crime-related news at multiple venues yesterday and the stories ought to be knitted together for the singular story they constitute.
* STATE PRISONS: The state prison population shot up 17.7 percent in 2013. Easy explanation. Tougher parole policies — speedier revocation hearings and more returns to prison as a response to outrage over crimes committed by parole violators. Also, down the food chain, courts are sending minor offenders to prison more often, undoubtedly the product of a similar tough-on-crime response by prosecutors and judges.
* COUNTY JAILS: The Pulaski County jail was closed to petty offenders because it’s full, thanks largely to an overflow of people who should be in state prison but for whom there is no room.
* SOCIETY: When petty offenders know they won’t go to jail if they get caught, it is a disincentive to good behavior. Don’t leave anything in your car.
* THE TAB: Here comes the finger-pointing. Politicians will insist it can be fixed at no cost. The Republican-majority legislature insists the state is taxed too much and has sufficient resources to meet all legitimate demands. (Tell that to the Pulaski County jailers holding state inmates.) Little Rock city officials want to blame the closed jail on county government. But Little Rock sends most of the criminals to the jail. Little Rock has to pay the cost.
* MISDIRECTION: City Director Lance Hines trotted out a favorite — and largely uninformed — criticism of county government at a City Board meeting last night. You hear it all the time. How can the county spend money on bridges — Broadway bridge enhancements, pedestrian bridges — when the jail can’t handle all the lawbreakers? Easy answer. It uses money from the road and bridge tax on bridges. The Arkansas Constitution requires that road and bridge money be spent only on roads and bridges, not jails.
If you want to get tough on criminals … If you want to lock them up and throw away the keys … there is no free jail cell. It takes tax money.